Like many across our lands I find myself in an awakened space today, with a bit of a bruised soul, but a warm heart and a sparked mind – looking to the horizon for what’s next. I feel immense privilege to have been any part of such a vibrant, dynamic citizens movement. Democracy has been brought to life, and grasped in a spirit of voice and power sharing for the many, over the few. People not only tuned in to politics – we danced furiously with it – injecting new life in to people and communities in every neuk and cranny of Scotland – awakening curiosity and igniting imaginations beyond our borders. Politics became about people again – I have faith we can keep it that way.
I was at the official Glasgow count on Thursday evening – patiently awaiting containers of ballot papers with crosses in boxes as they winked at us unopened, and lured yes and no counting agents to their side – stood nervously with clipboards, pens and beady eyes – ready to take tally samples as the boxes were opened and the papers unfolded. This same process was happening in every local authority across Scotland. It soon became apparent that the more deprived the area, the greater the samples showed a win for yes. Labour heartlands were awake and voting for change. Sampling tallied across Scotland, whisperings around the room, and spouting from pundits across the land, it soon became spoken reality that although Glasgow said yes, Scotland had said no.
The mood in the space moved from a bunch of passionate citizens believing in change – with counting agents uniting around yes from Asians for Independence, Women for Independence, Radical Independence, Greens and more – to the heavy weighting and despair of a lost dream of a nation. The clear split of citizens versus the establishment saw those grinning ear to ear around the ‘security’ of No, in clear guise of the establishment – mainly middle aged men in suits, and career politicians in dresses and heels. One suit said to another – ‘We’ve certainly put in a good shift for this one’. Knowing all to well the passion, energy, sweat and tears that folks had put in to the yes movement, in comparison to the salary these suits had been paid for their ‘shift’, I knew it was time to get out of there, and seek solace with friends.
Onwards to a party in a street lane and vibrant office block. I arrived to a buzzing bunch of hopefuls – none the wiser that their dream was no longer in reach. In a weird way it was refreshing to be in a place of hope again – and who was I to deny anyone the living of their hopes for a few more hours? Between booming dance tunes and celebratory exchanges of the possible, the music was silenced as each result came in – the BBC broadcast protruding from the wall in full glory of a projector light amongst flecks of disco illumination. Dundee next – and they said yes! The spirited revelers cranked up the music, hugged anyone near by and gave it a bit of yaldi! A friend turned to me – ‘yas! do you think we’re gona do it Zara?’. Anythings possible was my reply, not having the heart to tell them the truth they maybe already suspected but didn’t want to hear.
As the beer supply became less and less, and the realisation that Scotland had said ‘No’ became a reality – I witnessed the same change in energy and fall of hope as I had once already earlier that night. A people feeling beaten by the powers that be. It was up to our generation to learn from this, not be beaten by it. If we threw in the towel now – that’s it, goodbye democracy, equality, social justice, and any other progressive change we might work for. With this in mind – I reminded people this didn’t mean it was over – perhaps even a new kind of beginning…
Friday afternoon took me to Redmonds pub in Dennistoun – my new local. Whilst a long procession of cars occupied duke street with union jacks flying out of the windows and horns tooting as they gallantly showed the community their pride in their ‘success’. I was sitting with one of my closest friends, and fellow yes campaigner, Cat Hepburn – we both started to cry, hugging each other as we grieved for the loss of the fairer, more democratic, nuclear free, sustainable future we had both fought for – with words our only weapon. The first tears I had shed since the result. A woman in the pub came over to us, and placed a small blue yes badge on the table in front of us. She said ‘we were here in 79, we really thought we would get it this time. Next time, we wont be alive, but you will, and next time you’ll get it. Keep this badge for then’. Our realisation of the importance of the movement we were part of had perhaps never been so poignant – we committed to continuing to work for change and to making it happen.
I moved on to Mono for commiseration drinks with Patrick and the Glasgow Greens – we didn’t win – but we put in a good campaign – and broadened minds to the opportunities of yes, beyond an SNP policy lens. Consensus was we did everything we could – and news of a rising spurge of new members gave us all a little comfort. People were hungry for change, and engaging in politics – a win in itself – regardless of the party gaining from it. Since then, membership of the Scottish Greens has now been boosted by over 3,000 new members – and still rising. A peoples party, now endorsed by the people as so.
Saturday took me to Loch Fyne – to meet with fellow democracy lovers – all volunteers with So Say Scotland. The weekend took me offline and in to a space to connect with people, sunshine, ideas, hills, bonfires, hugs, good food, and a loch. The perfect respite after an intense campaign period, year, month and week. Through conversation, wine drinking, and just ‘being’, I was able to connect with my own grief, and the stirrings of disappointment and bewilderment of a hoodwinked nation. Sunday marked International Day of Peace, Non-Violence and Ceasefire. The perfect day to launch ‘Democracy House’, declaring from the top of a hill in bunting – ‘Aye, Love Democracy’.
From my readings of the Sunday papers to occasional glances on social media, I reflected on our new reality, and pondered our ‘what next?’.
Through the anger, grief, fizz of energy, and impassioned determination of a movement that had awoken a nation, and the UK establishment, it became clear that there was much to be thankful for and look forward to. With this in mind, as I put this chapter behind me and look to our new horizon, I would like to share the things I’m grateful for.
10 things I am thankful for:
1. The 97% who registered to vote, and the 85% who turned out to put their cross in the box. We, the people, made history with the greatest turn out since WW1.
2. The space the result of a 45% no, 55% yes vote has opened up for new dialogue – a mandate for change, and an informed electorate who are now watching and waiting – demanding change – that will come, maybe just not in the way we planned – dare I say it – maybe even better?
3. David Cameron and the Westminster elite addressing the English electorate and remembering (by being made to quake in his boots by the people of Scotland) the communities they are there to serve
4. The re-awakening and reconnecting of the feminist movement in Scotland – I have never know so many feminists who are no longer afraid to call themselves so!
5. To my generation – Generation Yes – for daring to dream and shifting the political paradigm
6. The flourishing of amazing creative and humorous political content – that will keep us laughing our way to the next chapter, and has birthed a new kind of politics that is here to stay!
7. The working class communities who embraced politics after years of disillusionment and let down, with no reason to believe that this time it would be any different – yet they believed. The very communities who must remain the focus of our continued political reform. I give thanks to every member of those communities, and others – not just the 45%.
8. Everyone who has joined the Scottish Green party (or any other party or group!) post referendum – you’re engagement is what will lead to the change we want to see.
9. Every single activist from every part of the movement – and especially to those who I now have the absolute pleasure to call friends.
10. The space that has opened up to continue to involve and include people in our new politics, and our brave new world. Here’s to continuing to declare independence of mind, as we build towards fairer structures and systems that work for us all.
Thank you Scotland.